Deirdre Scaggs, University of Kentucky 2014-12-02 11:15:43
In the midst of processing the English family papers—featuring the personal papers, works, and writings of Logan Eberhardt English, a poet, folksinger, actor, and playwright from Bourbon County, Kentucky, and his family—my colleague Andrew McGraw and I stumbled on a set of handwritten recipes. How fascinating it would be, we thought, to cook and taste this piece of history, literally bringing the collection to life. With this one spark of inspiration, we were prompted to begin archival research on other handwritten recipes, and the idea for our cookbook, The Historic Kentucky Kitchen, was born. The Historic Kentucky Kitchen is both a practical cookbook and a glimpse into the history of Southern cuisine. The cookbook contains more than one hundred tested recipes that were found in the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). The book covers a period of one hundred years, from 1850 to 1950, and Includes recipes from Kentucky families and early cookbooks. The recipes have been enhanced with standardized measurements, cooking times, temperatures, and other instructions that were frequently left out. Archival Process The SCRC uses Archivists’ Toolkit for collections management. This allowed easy searching across collection inventories, folder titles, descriptions, and accession records. Many of these collections did not have published finding aids. We started searching terms such as recipe, then receipt (an old term used before recipes), and, as time went on, we used more specific search terms, such as cake, bourbon, beans, chicken, etc. The SCRC also holds a collection of historic Kentucky cookbooks that provided recipe cross-referencing, context, historical measurement definitions, and more. The research process was focused primarily on discovering handwritten recipes. I felt that these carried a deeper meaning and would give readers a stronger connection to the families and individuals of this time period. Many had notes on taste, which indicated the recipe was actually made. In many cases, these handwritten recipes were handed down through the family, and they seemed to have a meaningful connection to the family history in that they remained as part of their papers. Much time was spent examining the physical items; as with any manuscript, there were legibility issues, fading, torn pages, general deterioration, stains, and just poor quality. During the research process, the recipes were scanned and printed. We knew we Needed to find hundreds of recipes. Many recipes were bound to be failures. I also was looking for a set of specific recipes to fill a research need based on Southern and regional food history: burgoo, fried chicken, pound cake, beaten biscuits, mayonnaise, egg nog, and recipes with bourbon. Plus, we needed a range of recipes to fill the parameters of a contemporary cookbook with a diverse set of desserts, main courses, soups, and sides. The archival research process continued for the duration of two years while recipes were tested and selected for inclusion in the cookbook. In tandem with the archival research, I was conducting research on southern food history, historic cooking techniques, and food production. A Greater Understanding Studying our history through food has been a way for me to relate to and discuss archives with people of all generations, Economic backgrounds, gender, or race. While the recipes included in this cookbook are not from my family or personal history, they form the culture and memory of the collective Kentucky and southern family. Compiling The Historic Kentucky Kitchen was a way for me to combine my passion for the archival record, creating memories through shared meals, and passing down old traditions with my belief in creating new. The Historic Kentucky Kitchen gives a taste— quite literally—of the region, and illustrates how local ingredients were incorporated into dishes as well as how other regions and countries influenced recipes. There were a lot of comical food disasters as dishes that I was unwilling to attempt, but overwhelmingly, I was most surprised by how delicious and sophisticated the dishes were. I continue to make many of them today. By publishing these previously unpublished manuscripts, the handwritten recipes will live on, in both the archives and in the kitchens of current or future generations. I hope it will also inspire others to preserve and study culinary history. As one last note: if you made every recipe in the cookbook, you would need around 50 sticks of butter and 144 eggs.
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